Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dempsey's remarks on combat in Iraq continue to garner attention

Yesterday, Gen Martin Dempsey, Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Dempsey appeared to be chomping at the bit to have US forces in Iraq officially in combat and gave not one scenario under which this could happen but multiple ones.

Mark Landler and Jeremy W. Peters (New York Times) note:

The general’s statement lays bare the challenge the president will face in selling an expanded military campaign to a war-weary American public. Mr. Obama, seeking to allay fears of another Iraq war, has promised that American ground troops will not be involved in fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. In a sign of the administration’s mixed message, the president pointedly did not call it a war, while his advisers later did.
But the realities of a prolonged campaign, General Dempsey said, could make such a hands-off approach untenable, particularly if the battle against the militants moves into densely populated cities where airstrikes are less effective and the chances of civilian casualties are much higher. His candid testimony, hours before a divided House of Representatives began debating whether to approve Mr. Obama’s request for authority to arm the Syrian rebels, drew expressions of concern from antiwar groups and could further complicate the political dynamic for the president.

All Iraq News adds:

The U.S. already has hundreds of advisors on the ground in Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate panel he cannot rule out combat troops returning to Iraq, albeit in a limited role.
"If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific (militant) targets, I will recommend that to the president," Dempsey said.
Such actions, he added, would be considered "close combat advising."
President Barack Obama has maintained U.S. combat troops would not be returning to the country. U.S. ground troops left the country in 2011 after nine years.

"At this point, (the president's) stated policy is we will not have US ground forces in direct combat," Dempsey said. "But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis."

Jim Acosta and Kevin Liptak (CNN) note the White House was briefed on Dempsey's opening claim:

Gen Martin Dempsey:  At this juncture, our advisors are intended to help the Iraqis develop a mindset for the offensive and the actions to match it. Our military advisors will help the Iraqis conduct campaign planning, arrange for enabler and logistics support, and coordinate Coalition contributions. To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisors should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the President. 

Briefed ahead of time.  Elaine noted it at her site, we noted it in the snapshot, these were prepared remarks, submitted in writing before the hearing began.  Dempsey read from the written statement word for word.  These prepared remarks went around the administration -- including to the White House -- before they were allowed to be submitted to Congress.

For CNN, it's a messaging mis-step.  That may or may not be the issue. It may also be the White House testing the waters.

Meanwhile Robert Burns (AP) notes Dempsey's remarks to reporters that the US assessment of the Iraqi military has found that approximately half of the members are not qualified and needs extensive training.

If they aren't qualified, that might be partly due to having no one to lead and oversee them.

From 2010 through today, there has been no Secretary of Defense in Iraq.  (The position there is known as Minister of Defense but an e-mail suggested we use the Secretary of Defense phrase to try to get the point across further.)  The federal police are under the Ministry of the Interior and there's been no Minister of Interior during the same time period.

Throughout his second term as prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki refused to nominate anyone to head the two ministries.

The new prime minister has nominated people for the position but, yesterday, Parliament rejected both nominees in a vote.

All Iraq News quotes Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jubouri stating they will vote again tomorrow.

At yesterday's US State Dept press briefing, moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf, the Associated Press' Matthew Lee raised the issue of the the security ministries.

QUESTION: Not that there’s a lot to say after the rather lengthy hearing this morning on the Hill, but perhaps you can offer us some comment on the fact that even this morning in the hearing and for the last couple weeks, we’ve been hearing about how wonderfully inclusive the new Iraqi Government is and how it’s going to be a strong partner. But yet today, they were unable to agree on these two key cabinet posts. And I’m just wondering if you’re at all concerned that that’s a harbinger of bad things to come.

MS. HARF: Well, forming governments and parliamentary systems, as you know, often involves multiple nominations, votes, and re-votes as part of the normal democratic process. We do appreciate the effort that Iraq’s leaders have put forth thus far in forming an inclusive government, as you mentioned. And they now, of course, must act without delay and make the necessary decisions to complete the cabinet. We’ll continue to urge Iraqi leaders to come to agreement on these two critical positions as soon as possible. Obviously, there are crucial parts of the national plan they have put forward. And I think they’ve talked about having another vote later in the week, so we’ll keep watching.

QUESTION: Right. But are you – I mean, yesterday, CENTCOM announced the first airstrikes under the new authority have been carried out.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm, correct.

QUESTION: And are you comfortable proceeding with the new strategy in support of the government when these two, as you noted, critical, crucial spots are still vacant and still very much contested?

MS. HARF: We are. We are. Again, we know parliamentary systems often take a while to get all of the posts filled. We want them to do so as soon as possible, but we are comfortable with where we are today.

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